Russia finds itself increasingly isolated. The war in Ukraine is having a strong diplomatic impact on the Kremlin, leaving it with only a few loyal allies including China, Iran, Syria, and three Latin American countries: Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, Argentine news site Todo Noticias reported.
Russia’s military industry is central to the historic relationship between Russia and Cuba. And “Havana is not giving up on the idea that it can be attacked by its neighbors,” Mauricio Jaramillo, a researcher at the School of Political Science and Government and International Relations at the Del Rosario University in Colombia, told Diálogo on July 6.
During a late June meeting in Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces Minister Álvaro López Miera announced an increase in collaboration between both countries in the military-technical sector.
Havana and Moscow are seeking to strengthen their relationship to face what they consider an offensive from the West. According to Jaramillo, both countries are taking advantage of this to face current challenges such as economic sanctions, and to reaffirm their position in the international geopolitical arena.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin reaffirmed this commitment through a series of agreements ratified on June 14, in the presence of Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero. The agreements include oil supplies, wheat sales, and the reestablishment of flights that had been suspended due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Associated Press (AP) reported.
The agreements also cover the expansion of the MIR cards, a payment system that will allow Russian tourists to make cash withdrawals and convert rubles to Cuban pesos, AP reported. MIR cards, accepted in other partner nations of Russia, are operated by state-owned Russian National Card Payment System.
Steel is yet another key sector that those agreements take into account. Moscow recently finalized a loan for the island’s only steel factory, and also pledged to finance the completion of three new thermoelectric plants using Russian technology. The current plants are 50 years old, Todo Noticias reported.
“This is evidence of a less direct type of influence known as soft power, which Russia frequently provides to its close neighbors such as Kazakhstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and obviously currently to Cuba,” Jaramillo said.
However, the support that Russia can bring Cuba is rather limited, Vladimir Rouvinski, an academic at the ICESI University in cali, Colombia told AFP. “Putin’s Russia is not the USSR […] nor is Putin interested in spending millions of dollars in keeping Cuba within the Russian orbit, and Russia doesn’t have the money to do so anyways.”
High-ranking Russian officials’ visits to Havana have increased in 2023. Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev and CEO of state-owned oil company Rosneft Igor Sechin began these visits in March, Argentine news site Infobae reported.
In mid-May, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Chernyshenko outlined a roadmap to accelerate cooperation with the island, Infobae reported. At the same time, representatives of some 50 Russian companies explored business and investment possibilities in Havana.
“Cuba is in a bad shape,” Jaramillo said. “There are shortages, currency problems, and the Russians have lately become experts in evading the effects of the sanctions.”
For Cuban economist Tamarys Bahamonde Russia is the “wrong” partner as a model for economic transformation.
“What is needed are not new recommendations, but the political will to do what needs to be done to implement the transformations that have been recommended for many years,” Bahamonde said. “These transformations have to include the ‘political institutions.’”
The long-term impact of the Russian-Cuban relationship poses a potential conflict in terms of investments and influence in Latin America. This region is crucial in the multilateral arena, both in voting within the United Nations and in resource management and ecological transition, Jaramillo said.
“Beyond the situation in Ukraine, there is an important dispute for influence in Latin America, where non-traditional actors such as China […] and Russia are positioning themselves in this long-term contest for resources, influence, and for being able to have a broader and more effective presence in the region,” Jaramillo added.
The evolution of relations between Russia, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela represents a “threat to security and stability in the Western Hemisphere,” where the existence of like-minded democracies plays a fundamental role in maintaining stability and promoting collaboration in the region, Peruvian investigative platform Expediente Público reported.
In the Latin American context it is crucial “to strengthen and channel the role of the Organization of American States, to address effectively and in a fair dialogue issues such as hemispheric security, the fight against drug trafficking, the promotion of fair trade, and the management of migration,” Jaramillo concluded.